Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre Reopens for the 2019-20 Season After Extensive Renovations

Salt Lake City, UT – After six months of renovations, the Capitol Theatre reopens on Saturday, October 12, with Utah Opera’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata.

“We are so pleased to welcome patrons and performers back to the newly renovated Capitol Theatre,” said Sarah Pearce, Division Director for Salt Lake County Arts & Culture, the owner and operator of the venue. “We especially appreciate the partnership and cooperation of our Resident companies, Ballet West and Utah Opera, during this extensive project.”

The first thing Pearce hopes patrons notice is the newly restored terra cotta roof façade. The façade, built in 1913, was restored by the original terra cotta manufacturer, Gladding McBean, in Sacramento, California. Utah’s Kepco+ led the façade restoration and designed an attachment system that can withstand local weather conditions and a seismic event.

Inside the theatre a new staircase leads from the lobby to the auditorium and there are significant changes in seating on the Orchestra level.

“We created a new entrance and center aisle that allows patrons to access new ADA seating in the center of the Orchestra level and improves exiting from the auditorium,” said Pearce. “The new structure that forms the center aisle is elegant and complements the existing architectural elements.”

In addition to the seating, another major feature that will impact patrons is the newly installed sound system.

“The new sound system fulfills a long-standing need at the Capitol Theatre and opens up new possibilities for concerts and spoken word events,” said Jeff Gwilliam, the Associate Division Director of Operations for Salt Lake County Arts & Culture. “The Capitol’s new system provides cleaner sound overall and better coverage for the back of the orchestra, mezzanine, and balcony sections.

Major infrastructure upgrades include a new roof, new plumbing and pipes, and two new boilers.  The new boilers will improve the energy efficiency of the building significantly, taking it from 60% efficiency to 90%.

“The Capitol Theatre is a high-profile facility and the project team has worked hard to complete the renovations with great care and craftsmanship,” said Gwilliam.


The Capitol Theatre project team includes:

  • Salt Lake County Arts & Culture and Salt Lake County Facilities
  • HKS Architects
  • Big-D Construction
  • KEPCO+
  • Construction Control Corporation

Utah Opera’s presentation of Verdi’s La Traviata is the first production in the renovated space and runs from Saturday, October 12 – Sunday, October 20, 2019.  Tickets are available from utahopera.org or artsaltlake.org.

The first round of Capitol Theatre renovations completed in 2014 included the addition of the Jessie Eccles Quinney Ballet Centre; an expanded lobby and new reception rooms; new patron amenities including restrooms, new concessions and coat check stands, and a renovated ticket office; improved stage sightlines; new seating upholstery and padding; and new carpeting.

Salt Lake County Arts & Culture owns and operates the Capitol Theatre.


Capitol Theatre 2019 Renovation Projects

ADA & Orchestra Level Upgrades

  • New center aisle for easier exiting and access to new ADA seating positions
  • New ADA seating positions above and below the new center aisle
  • Reconfigure orchestra level rows for optimized views and wider seats

New Audio-Visual System

  • Installed system infrastructure
  • Added line array speakers
  • Installed transmitter system for descriptive audio
  • Improvements to backstage audio and visual

Roof Work

  • Installed new seismic bracing
  • Installed new overflow drains
  • Installed new boilers
  • New roof and insulation

Infrastructure Upgrades and Improvements

  • Replaced galvanized plumbing pipes
  • Updated freight elevator
  • Installed fall protection on lighting ladders inside auditorium
  • Reconfigured and updated performer work and rehearsal spaces
  • Added narration booth in the back of the auditorium
  • Added an ADA accessible star dressing room


Capitol Theatre Terra Cotta Roof Cornice

During the 2013-14 Capitol Theatre renovations, we discovered that there were potential structural issues with the terra cotta façade.  In July 2015, we contracted with KEPCO+ to survey the condition of the Capitol Theatre’s terra cotta façade.

KEPCO+ is a Salt Lake-based company that specializes in the design, fabrication, and installation of natural stone, tile, and terra cotta cladding systems. Some of their projects include the Utah Governor’s Mansion and State Capitol, the City Creek Center’s waterfall feature, and Disney Corporate Headquarters in Burbank, California.


KEPCO+ Survey Process

KEPCO+’s survey focused primarily on the structural integrity of the roof cornice terra cotta elements. The report indicated that some areas of the terra cotta façade displayed significant distress and had potential for failure. Additionally, there was evidence of significant amounts of existing cracking and past repairs.  Based upon the report, we decided to immediately remove all the roof cornice terra cotta elements.

KEPCO + conducted a three-dimensional laser survey of the façade, mapping the position of each piece of terra cotta. This enabled them to create a 3D electronic model of the Roof Cornice for replacing the terra cotta at a later date.

After removal, KEPCO+ conducted a full review of each piece of the Roof Cornice Terra Cotta for structural integrity, aesthetics, and glaze finish condition.  Out of the 270 pieces of removed terra cotta, 34 needed to be replaced.  The 34 unusable pieces cracked and crumbled upon removal.  Out of the 270 pieces, the largest corner piece weighs in at 438 pounds.


Fabrication & Repair

The company that fabricated the original terra cotta pieces in 1912, Gladding McBean, is based in Northern California and still in business. Surprisingly, they still had the original drawings for the Capitol Theatre façade.

KEPCO sent samples of the removed terra cotta pieces to Gladding McBean so they could create molds for the fabrication of the new 34 pieces.  The molds are made from plaster of Paris. Each piece of terra cotta is created by hand, with the craftsmen pressing the clay into the mold. It is released from the mold, hand finished, and then dried for several weeks in a carefully controlled environment. The larger pieces were dried for more than a month before being glazed and placed in a kiln for firing.

Matching the glaze colors of the new and old pieces was a trial and error process.  After several months, the five colors needed to match the existing glazes were approved.  The useable terra cotta pieces were cleaned and repaired where necessary and were carefully stored for replacement.


Restoring the Roof Façade

While the new terra cotta pieces were in fabrication, KEPCO+ determined how they will reattach the terra cotta to the building. Traditionally, this was done with bricks and mortar and mild steel ties. KEPCO+ designed a new connection system using stainless steel clips and galvanized steel backup framing to create an attachment system that could withstand the local weather conditions and a seismic event.

First, Kepco raised the existing brick wall of the building exterior behind the terra cotta up to the underside of the existing roof. To prepare the existing steel for painting, it was sandblasted and the new steel erected.  The steel was then painted for weather protection.

Each piece of terra cotta was then individually installed and attached to the new framing. New lights were placed in the soffit flowers and in the mouths of the faces at the top of the roof cornice terra cotta.

When the installation was complete, the joints between each piece were caulked with sealant and the top of the terra cotta was tied into the main roofing membrane to keep water from infiltrating the back of the façade. After final cleaning of the terra cotta, the roof was be restored to its original beauty, with a good deal of reinforcement and protection.